County police use of grants is subject of federal query

Justice Department eyes funds intended for staffing

April 17, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Police Department is among 149 agencies whose use of federal funding intended to put more officers on the street is being questioned by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Justice, officials said yesterday.

The inspector general's report, made public this week, summarizes an extensive two-year audit completed last fall of how local police agencies used grants issued under the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994 -- part of President Clinton's promise to put 100,000 new officers on America's streets.

Baltimore County's Police Department has received $10.13 million in grants. The inspector general's report raised questions about $156,000 of that -- a finding that police and federal officials described yesterday as relatively minor.

"They were unhappy with some of our documentation," said county police spokesman Bill Toohey. "We believe we have followed all the rules and regulations."

The summary of the report did not fully explain why Baltimore County's use of funds was questioned.

But documents showed that the auditors' criticism focused on three areas -- how the county redeployed officers hired under the temporary grants and how it tracked the redeployment; formal planning used by the county police department; and financial status reports.

Officials at the Office of Inspector General declined to provide details yesterday, but a spokesman for one of the agencies that gave out the grants emphasized the report's findings were preliminary and did not necessarily imply wrongdoing or misuse of the grant money.

"This does not mean Baltimore County has done anything wrong," said Dan Pfeiffer, a public affairs specialist with the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which gave the county money to hire officers.

The three infractions listed by the inspector general for the county were "very minor and easily fixable," he said.

The audit raised questions about two kinds of funding given to Baltimore County, officials said -- $136,000 in community-oriented policing grants, and $20,000 in Making Officer Redeployment Effective (MORE) grants.

The overall audit examined $511 million given to 149 police departments -- about 10 percent of the total money awarded under the Violent Crime Act to date.

Toohey said that most of the questions were about the way the county kept track of civilians it hired under the grant. Part of the COPS program was designed to use civilians in police departments so that sworn officers could be on the streets rather than behind desks.

Toohey said the department followed the rules of the COPS program in documenting and reporting how the money was used.

Pfeiffer said the audit findings will be resolved in one of two ways: Either the department will make the requested changes, or it must repay the funds if the audit finds the money was misused.

Pub Date: 4/17/99

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